The Palestinian cause is a banner for all of humanity

To celebrate the recent release of a new English translation of Ghassan Kanafani’s essential work, The 1936–1939 Revolution in Palestine, leftist publisher 1804 Books shares an excerpt from the introduction.

August 09, 2023 by Layan Fuleihan
Ghassan Kanafani at his Beirut office. Image source: Assafir

In “The 1936–1939 Revolution in Palestine”, Ghassan Kanafani takes up a thorough analysis of the economic, political, social, and cultural conditions that contributed to, and limited, the anti-colonial struggle in this period. While the moment Kanafani examines took place almost a century ago, this text teaches us how we must look to history and learn from its triumphs and failures so we can sharpen our strategy for liberation today. 

Seventy-five years after the Nakba, we know that the fight for a free Palestine rages on. In the following excerpt from the introduction by Layan Sima Fuleihan, she primes the readers to embark on a study of this extraordinary text, placing Kanafani in his historical context, illustrating his skill as a writer and revolutionary leader, and urging us to see the connection between the moment he studied and the current moment we live in today.

To read the full introduction, you can find “The 1936–1939 Revolution in Palestine” at, or at a radical bookstore near you.


In Lebanon, 1969, while Ghassan Kanafani sat down at his desk and embarked on the political and analytical study of the 1936–1939 Revolution, the center of the Palestinian armed struggle was coming to his doorstep. With it came major shifts for the entire region, and for his own political life.

It was a mere two years after the 1967 war—a war that not only resulted in the tragic defeat of the Arab forces, the further theft of Palestinian land by the expanding Zionist state, the strengthening of the Zionist settlement movement, and a crushing blow to the burgeoning Arab nationalist regional movement—it also created a new mechanism for imperialist invasion and aggression in the region, marking the first time a United Nations (UN) member state would justify initiating military conflict using the threat of anticipated attack; a tactic indispensable to the imperialist playbook in the region still today.

Although the region had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of imperialism, new and advanced strategies of resistance were emerging, and Ghassan Kanafani played a key role in this process. The forces of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) were forced to retreat and were no longer supported by the mass wave of public optimism after their defeat in 1967. In the context of this retreat, the Arab Nationalist Movement reorganized. Under the leadership of George Habash, the people involved with the Movement founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist–Leninist political party that took up both armed and ideological struggle. Kanafani was a central figure in this new organization, being elected to the Politburo and being appointed as the party spokesperson in 1969. That same year, he drafted the party program that officially adopted Marxism–Leninism, and founded the Party’s newspaper, Al-Hadaf (The Target).

Not coincidentally, the moment of consolidation in 1969 shared many characteristics with that period that is under Kanafani’s analytical review in the following pages. According to Kanafani and his revolutionary contemporaries, the revolution of 1936–39 was one of the most concentrated and intense political experiences that would consequently set the conditions for the founding of the Zionist state of Israel as well as shaping the possibilities for the Palestinian liberation struggle. Kanafani’s seminal study of this period has circulated in many languages, serving as a reference for the international movement against Zionism to better understand both the origins of the Zionist state and the major obstacles that have conditioned the Palestinian path forward.

Despite the wide circulation of this analytical historical text, Ghassan Kanafani is mostly remembered in the English-speaking world for his literary work (such as his fictional texts Men in the Sun and Return to Haifa). The wealth of his political work has not been translated from Arabic and it is rarely commented upon even in the world of Arabic letters. This may be partly because of the sheer quantity of writings that Kanafani produced in his thirty-six years under his name and the various pseudonyms he employed. There is also the reality that much of his writing, particularly his journalistic pieces, requires contextual knowledge that has been stolen from later generations. Kanafani didn’t just write—he went to battle with his pen, deploying his sharp and cutting satire to expose opportunism, normalization, or betrayal of the revolutionary cause. Our generation is now tasked with recovering his analysis, including learning to read his journalistic and analytical texts, to build a full picture of his vision for Palestinian emancipation.

But this emphasis on his literary work in the consciousness of today’s younger generation does not mean that his political insights are not well represented. On the contrary, it is impossible to separate his political and literary work. This is not simply because of the obvious truth that all writing is, of course, a political act. It is that his literary work achieves something that transcends the categories of both analysis and fiction: his words bring the reader to occupy the very human heart of his characters, and his characters are at once representative of the Palestinian experience, and at the same time, utterly and irrefutability human in their stubbornness to become an archetype. He gives his characters a freedom that cannot be restrained, even as he forces us to witness their displacement, imprisonment, inhumane suffering, and death. The stories he tells challenge us to confront our own humanity and to never separate our political perspective from the contradictory and complicated reality of what it is to be a human who loves, fears, despairs, dreams; a human who must navigate pride and shame, sacrifice, and survival, and who, with all of this complexity, is directly confronting the immense trauma and direct violence of colonial genocide.

Kanafani’s consideration of all dimensions of human life and society at all times is nothing more or less than a revolutionary commitment. The following text is materialist to its core, a true example of rigorous class analysis. But Kanafani is not one to use a mechanical definition of class. His definitions of class, class position, and class oppression begin with and return to the particular conditions of the Palestinian context, and consider the unquantifiable aspects of colonial oppression to identify with precision the class contradictions that will generate openings for struggle. And the analysis itself is not done for its own sake. His concern, again, is not to justify predefined positions, but to find where political and organizational leadership may have mistakenly identified the revolutionary sectors of society, or were misguided in their forms of communication, or were disconnected from the very masses that the Palestinian liberation movement is committed to defending. It is easy to understand the urgency with which Kanafani must have taken on this kind of historical evaluation, considering the context of defeat and reorganization in which he wrote.


Kanafani is irrefutably more than just a writer: he is a militant and a political leader who wages struggle with his writing. In that sense, his writing is not just an archival document—it should be considered in all of its dimensions, especially when read and studied by those also engaged in struggle. Kanafani consulted the 1936–1939 Revolution, which ended in defeat, in a moment of another defeat during which the forces of resistance were reorganizing to adapt to new conditions. Just as “Lenin consulted Marx” in pivotal times, so Kanafani consulted history, seeking from it a lived example to better understand a living reality. For us today, especially those of us who find ourselves in another moment of significant defeat and reorganization, we should consult Kanafani, and read his text not simply as an analysis of an experience almost a century ago, but as a source from which to glean certain key lessons for revolutionary movement today.

At the time of this writing, we have marked the seventy-fifth year of the Nakba. The Zionist occupation has yet again showered Gaza with bombs, murdering entire families. The most right-wing forces in the history of the Zionist project have entered the Israeli government, giving strength to the settler movement and escalating operations on the occupied Palestinian territories in their entirety, as well as the Lebanese and Syrian territories. Zionism does not only seek the borders of Palestine, it reaches beyond, pushing for an escalation of the US imperialist hybrid war in the entire region, and collaborating with right-wing and imperialist forces around the world.

At the same time, new forms of Palestinian resistance and international solidarity are surging, and the legitimacy of the Zionist project is rapidly disintegrating across the world. Today, after the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising waves of right-wing violence pulled away the last threads of capitalism’s mask, and, on a geopolitical level, as concrete moves are being made to build alternatives to US military, political, and economic domination—the working and poor majority of the world are becoming more aware of the Palestinian cause, recapturing the internationalist consciousness that was fractured in the rise of neoliberalism and the fragmentation of the socialist bloc. Just like 1969, our time now is one of defeat, violence, and also resistance—a rapidly changing conjuncture that is generating new forms and new waves of struggle, giving new life to the path toward socialism and internationalism that Kanafani and his comrades fought for.

Kanafani should be alive today, confronting this reality with us. But I will not end this introduction with a description of his death. A death he told a million times in his stories—death at the hands of a colonizer who cannot accept the humanity of the colonized, because, like the clarity of a polished mirror, it forces him to confront his own inhumanity. But there is no revolutionary thinker in the world who could be stopped by death. Kanafani’s vision, sensitivity, and love for his people are carried in the continued life and work of his family, Anni, Fayez, and Laila Kanafani, in the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and the solidarity of all people who will not allow the banner of Palestinian liberation to drop until it is achieved, fully, and without compromise.

Instead, I would like to end this introduction with a proposal to read Kanafani’s text as if he is here, sitting across from you and speaking with you, alive and well. Listen to this immense example of revolutionary commitment and sacrifice, just as you would a respected comrade. Pause and reflect, disagree and debate, and listen again, considering all the ways in which this conversation may change the way you perceive your own context, diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of the moment, and shift your own analysis of today. And then, jump back into the collective life that is international class struggle, with his famous words to encourage you:

Imperialism has laid its body over the world. . . . Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the world revolution.

Layan Sima Fuleihan is a popular educator and organizer. She is the Education Director of The People’s Forum and an editor of 1804 Books in New York City.